Hijabis of New York: Fighting stereotypes by being themselves

Hijabis of New York: Fighting stereotypes by being themselves
American Muslim women who wear the hijab are taking to social media to challenge negative stereotypes by sharing their stories and experiences.
4 min read
19 January, 2016
Muslim women are shattering stereotypes by speaking for themselves [Facebook/Hijabis of NY]
"What's that over your head? Aren't you hot in that?" and "Are you forced to wear that?" are only some of the near-daily questions received by Muslim women who wear the hijab or headscarf in the US.

Being visibly Muslims has led to many Muslim women who wear the hijab to be the victims of verbal and even physical attacks, especially since the mainstreaming of anti-Muslim rhetoric by American politicians.

Even in some of the most liberal and educated circles in the country, many people do not understand why Muslim women wear the hijab and fall back on popular western stereotypes that equate hijab with oppression and subjugation.

"As a hijabi Muslim woman I got a lot of questions about the hijab - not from a malicious stand point at all - but just out of curiosity," said Rana Abdelhamid, a young graduate student, about her American university experience.

Many of Rana's peers at the elite Middlebury College had never interacted or even met a Muslim before, however it was still surprising to her when a fellow student told her that he discovered she was a "normal" person.

Inspired by the social media sensation Humans of New York, Rana decided to create a similar project that humanises Muslim women who wear the hijab and provides them with a platform to speak for themselves, and thus Hijabis of New York was born.
Courtesy of Hijabis of New York

The page features pictures of young Muslims women in New York - and more recently Madrid - in hijabs who talk about what the religious symbol means to them.

The diverse posts offer a candid and often personal window into the lives of Muslim women that shatters popular held notions of how Muslim women think, act and live.

"Don't ever let yourself believe you have experienced the world, until you have travelled. Don't ever let anyone convince you that being a woman means staying sheltered in the home. Don't ever allow your youth [to] pass by you without challenging yourself by going beyond your comfort zone," said one of the featured women.

"The most embarrassing moment of my life was probably when I was about ten years old. I was sitting on a chair in the playground and I was too afraid to use the bathroom so I peed my pants and some little boy saw and made fun of me with some other kids," said another.

In addition to being a space where stereotypes are challenged, the Facebook page that has some 15,000 followers, inadvertently became a space for conversations between Muslim women about hijab and other issues affecting them.

"This is an opportunity also not just for awareness, but also for internal dialogue - for Muslim women specifically to engage issues that they care about," said the project's founder Rana Abdelhamid.

By speaking to Muslim women in New York and on her travels to Madrid and London, Rana has discovered striking similarities in the experiences of women who wear hijab in the US and Europe.

"The stories are sobering," Rana told The New Arab. "You hear these women who are scared to leave their homes and have this anxiety because they have been discriminated against in the work place and have faced bullying at school".

Rana said that most of the women featured believe that the people perpetuating violence against Muslim women are uneducated about hijab, which is why they are sharing their stories in the hope of shifting attitudes through education.

However, Rana who herself was the victim of an anti-Muslim attack in the aftermath of the 11 September terrorist attacks in her native New York recognises that the project can only do so much.

"I think it would be a gross overstatement if I say that Hijabis of New York has changed the way people view Muslim women - it's a very small project," said Rana.

"But it's definitely part of a process where we're chipping away at this mentality as much as we can and we hope for the best".